Tag Archives: Water

Rivers, Technology and Society – Dipak Gyawali at the LCEDN Conference, Durham, 23rd – 24th March 2015

Simon Batchelor from Gamos writes on the relevance of Dipak Gyawali’s talk at the 4th LCEDN Conference to the SAMSET project.

I attended an interesting talk by Dipak Gyawali (Interdisciplinary Analysts, Nepal) at the LCEDN 4th Conference, Durham March 23rd and 24th 2015.  Dipak has been both minister of water and minister of energy for the government of Nepal in the past.  Now an academic studying and discussing the water, energy, food nexus, he is best known for his book Rivers, Technology and Society.  He raised a number of points in his talk that seemed particularly relevant to SAMSET.

Nepal is a country with great potential for hydro power and yet it has only 750MW and in recent years is having daily load shedding on 15 hours.  He focused on how long it takes to build a hydro dam, and the complexities of the ecosystem, the role of activists, and the conditionality of the loans.  Indeed he told the story of how he was involved in challenging the bad economics of the World Bank, arguing against a particular dam not from an environmental point of view (against which the World Bank would argue they would mitigate the environment effects, and then 15 years later we would all see that the mitigation didn’t work) but using economics to argue against the massive investment and delayed outcomes – bad economics was a convincing argument.

But arguing against something is not the way forward for a country.  So Dipak gave us some very concrete examples of possible ways forward.  He talked about the emerging role of decentralised electricity, which takes so much less time to plan and implement.  He noted that in addition to the 750MW national grid, there is also 750MW of Diesel (and Petrol) generators, being run by retail outlets, shopping centres and homes!  Where the grid costs 7 to 8 rupees per kWh, the people who feel they need control of their own electric destiny are paying between 30 to 80 rupees for their diesel generation.  This indicates a massive willingness to pay – if it is attached to reliability.  And Dipak pointed out that from first discussions to actual switching on in 2011, the 750Mw of hydro took more than 70 years; the 750MW of diesel has been thought of and switched on in the last 10 years.


“Kaligandaki Hydro” by Krish Dulal – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kaligandaki_Hydro.jpg#/media/File:Kaligandaki_Hydro.jpg

So how can we leverage this willingness to pay and this idea of decentralised but reliable electricity?  Of course his example is of carbon based diesel; it would be good if the decentralised reliable energy could come from clean energy.  In Nepal, there are regulatory difficulties in connecting renewables to the grid.  There are 46MW of solar PVs in the country, and studies quoted by Dipak suggest that with a reasonable and a more bureaucratic light feed in tariff, people would install 250MW within 6 months.  His views from Nepal illustrate how ‘business as usual’ can lead to a strange energy landscape, with people paying more than necessary for their energy when a change in policy and regulatory framework could rapidly change the scene.

He also talked about alternative models for funding smaller responses.  Small hydro has not really been very cost effective and yet stepping out of the box and looking at it from different angle can completely change that.  He talked about hydro and transport, and I confess that I thought ‘How is that possible?, how can you link hydro and transport?’.  In Nepal people carry items up mountains by foot, and it can take five hours or more to get goods up to a village. Ropeways can offer an electric pulley transport system. Connecting a hydro to a ropeway can make the hydro economically justifiable, working on the ropeway during the day and then its use for lighting in the evening for the community doesn’t even need to be charged.

In SAMSET we have noted the difference between South African municipalities who buy electricity wholesale and are responsible for and gain revenue from distribution, and Uganda and Ghana where municipalities don’t have such responsibility.  In Nepal, Dipak introduced communitisation of electricity, where communities were enabled to mobilise to purchase electricity wholesale and take responsibility for distribution.  Some 250 communities operate in this way now, and theft of electricity has dropped to zero (since the wholesale has to match the distribution and any community member attempting theft is soon identified and sanctioned).

Interestingly at this point Dipak spent some time on the political economy, noting that almost all sides of the political spectrum do not like the communitisation idea.  The Maoists were said to not like it because it wasn’t through the party system, and the far right didn’t like it because they liked to gift things to the people, in order to get their political support – the communitisation empowered the people outside the patronage system.  Dipak also mentioned that the centralists were lobbied by vested interested to not explore these interesting alternative models!

It was a very interesting talk.  I cannot guarantee I have remembered everything accurately, and numbers may be slightly off, but I felt particularly his focus on decentralised reliable energy, and the willingness of people to pay for reliability, was relevant to all our SAMSET locations.


Clean Energy Transitions – Can Africa Leapfrog?

Simon Batchelor from Gamos Ltd offers his thoughts on smart technology in sustainable energy, and the concept of “leapfrogging” in energy transitions.

I recently attended the conference ICT4S which focuses on using smart technology to manage energy sustainably.  ICT4S is a series of research conferences bringing together leading researchers, developers and government and industry representatives interested in using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) as a tool to reach sustainability goals. The 1st ICT4S Conference was held in Zürich and attracted 250 participants from 40 countries. The theme of ICT4S 2014 held in Stockholm was “ICT and transformational change”. ‘Sustainable development needs transformational changes regarding both technology and patterns of production and consumption. This conference explores  and shapes the role of ICT in this process and assess positive and negative impacts of ICT on sustainability. ICT for sustainability is about utilizing the transformational power of ICT for making our world more sustainable: saving energy and material resources by creating more value from less physical input, increasing quality of life for ever more people without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their needs.’

Obviously this conference discusses the high tech end of the spectrum.  There are many actions that can be taken to move towards cleaner, more sustainable energy production and consumption.  Switching off lights to save energy can be done by changes in behaviour – people ensuring they switch the light off when leaving the building.  But humans are fallible, so many technicians propose connecting lights to sensors that switch them off when there is no movement.   This conference spent a lot of time discussing such high tech alternatives – smart buildings that monitored and managed energy.  Even smart cities that mapped where people were travelling to and organised the public transport accordingly.

So for instance, one of the papers talks about smart management of a building in the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.  Their paper “GreenMind – An Architecture and Realization for Energy Smart Buildings” states in the abstract that existing buildings are responsible for more than 40% of the world’s total primary energy consumption (although that seems a very high proportion?). They go on to say that current management systems fail to reduce unnecessary energy consumption and preserve user comfort at the same time mainly because they are unable to cope with dynamic changes caused by user’s interaction with the environment.  So they created a software architecture for energy smart buildings.  Experimental results carried out in the Bernoulli building, a 12.000 square meter building of the University of Groningen, show that the proposed solutions are able to save up to 56% of electricity used for lighting, at least 20% of electricity used for heating while the savings from controlling workstations as well as other appliances are 33% and 10%, respectively. overall, their solution is expected to save up to 28% of total energy consumption in buildings such as the Bernoulli building.

But what relevance has this to Africa?  Well, I listened to their Eurocentric presentations with an ear for Africa, and I was surprised by what I heard.   In Citizen observatories of water: Social innovation via eParticipation, I heard officials from the Netherlands discuss how difficult it is to get people to report problems.  “Advanced citizen observatories can enable a two-way communication paradigm between citizens and decision makers, potentially resulting in profound changes to existing flood risk management processes”.   That is; they have created community volunteers who are willing to report problems!  This has been a problem in the past for Africa, not because people are unwilling to get involved (as is the case in Europe) but because the distance to report a problem was too far.  A broken handpump may lie idle because the community do not have the bus fare to get to the district to report it.  However this is changing.  There are mobile phones and reporting problems can be just a phone call away.  Africa does not need sophisticated websites to collect data on problems, it needs only a willing ear to listen – ears which can be used in face to face conversation or through a simple phone call.

As I sat listening to various presentations, looking for the leapfrog technology; I was surprised.  I realised that what Africa had was a leapfrog society.  Citizens who are willing to talk to each other in community, and to engage with officials IF officials are willing to listen.   The matching of mobile phones and a willing society could result in big data that might really help transitions to clean energy.

Cape Town Electricity Department Meeting – 11th November 2014

Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr from UCL, and Yachika Reddy from SEA, recently met with Maurisha Hammer and Zwelethu Zulu, representatives from the Cape Town Municipal Electricity Department’s Electrification Division, to discuss the city’s approach to the electrification of informal settlements, and the challenges facing informal settlement electrification across South Africa.

The Cape Town approach to informal settlement electrification is pioneering compared to the approaches of other countries and metropolitan areas. Informal settlement electrification is under a separate project management procedure to that of formal settlement electrification in the municipality. Formal settlements are project managed by developers, housing associations and “Section 21” companies, which are non-profit housing project developers. Informal settlement electrification is directly project-managed by the Electrification Department, and projects are selected in-situ, i.e. any existing informal settlement has the potential to be electrified under the Council approved Residential Electricity Reticulation policy that requires that  it is a stable settlement (i.e. not transient) and has not been identified for upgrading or relocation . To be considered for electrification, an informal settlement may not be situated

  • in a road or rail reserve or in a servitude, unless otherwise permitted by land owner;
  • in an area below the 1:50 year flood return period contour;
  • in a storm water detention pond; or
  • on unstable land.

This approach is in contrast to other countries’ and cities’ experiences with informal settlement electrification. For example, while cases exist for “slum” electrification in India (notably Chennai and Mumbai) and Thailand (Bangkok), these are processes dependant on the formalisation of property rights for informal dwellers. Part of the rationale behind the Cape Town approach is to do with the constitutional mandate for municipalities in South Africa to provide basic municipal services (electricity, water, sanitation, and refuse management) to all inhabitants of the municipality. Whilst funding constraints prevent the fulfilment of this mandate in many municipalities, Cape Town seems to be succeeding in doing so through this program.

Another major contributor to the success of the program is the community engagement aspect of informal settlement operations. Repeated meetings with community leaders, and notably members of the community themselves, throughout the duration of an electrification project, significantly contribute to investment and participation of the community in the project, nurturing trust in the services and engendering community spirit, cutting down on electricity theft and grid overloading. The opportunity is also used to get cooperation from the community to open up access ways in densely populated areas, not only to facilitate the installation of an electricity reticulation network but also to be maintained as access ways for health emergency services as well as the provision of other basic services such as water and sanitation where possible

The electrification of informal dwellings in the backyards of formal housing developments is a recent initiative. Two pilot projects have been successfully completed in what many regard as a first-of-its-kind program. The main challenge with these projects is the reinforcement of the existing reticulation network serving these properties. In most cases the additional load posed by backyard dwellings makes it necessary to replace the backbone infrastructure. At this stage the programme is restricted to backyard dwellings on properties owned by the City (rental housing) due to legal restrictions around enhancing private properties with public funds.

South African municipalities generate significant income from electricity distribution, and are responsible under their mandate to electrify urban areas, with rural areas under the jurisdiction of ESKOM, the national utility. Given the low rates of return for informal settlement electrification, for less affluent South African municipalities, replicating the Cape Town experience may prove challenging. While the electrification of informal settlements and backyard dwellings may not make financial sense if viewed with too narrow a perspective, the City emphasises wider benefits such as better living conditions, economic stimulation, health and safety, job creation and education opportunities. In view of the challenges faced with the delivery of free formal housing due to growing demand faced with urbanisation and historic spatial planning legacies amongst others in formal housing, informal housing has an important interim role to play and will not disappear overnight. It is with this knowledge that the City Of Cape Town decided more than a decade ago to provide electricity to those living in informal settlements.

In all, the Cape Town experience in informal electrification has useful implications for the SAMSET project. The management of informal electrification projects by the municipality has served to mitigate a number of risks inherent in informal settlement electrification, and this experience -under a number of conditions – could be cross-applied to great effect in other metropolitan areas in developing countries globally, particularly in the Sub-Saharan African context.

The iShack Project in Enkanini, Stellenbosch, South Africa

SAMSET project team members, municipal project partners and attendees from the CPD course “Energy and Sustainable Urban Energy Transitions in Africa” visited Enkanini on the 19th November 2014. Enkanini is an informal settlement in Kayamandi which was established in 2006, Stellenbosch, South Africa, and as part of the CPD course team members visited the iShack sustainability project, based in the settlement.

iShack is an organisation established in 2010, through collaboration with residents of Enkanini and  the University of Stellenbosch’s Sustainability Institute, promoting sustainability in the settlement across a wide range of applications. The “demonstration” shacks run by the project incorporate a number of energy-efficient and sustainable technologies.

Improved insulation and building materials were an early focus of the project, with leftover/recycled materials being used to insulate walls and ceilings, as well as innovative layered wall constructions offering cooling in the daytime without the use of air conditioning, improving the indoor environment.

Enkanini blog image 1Energy and Sustainable Urban Development course attendees in Enkanini, Stellenbosch, South Africa. Image: Daniel Kerr

Biogas is another focus of the project, and biogas digesters utilising human solid waste are installed in the demonstration shack bathrooms, enabling cooking from biomethane.

Water is another focus of the project. The project is expanding dissemination of grey water flushing for public bathrooms in the settlement, firstly in 2011 through gravity flushing. This approach has met with some resistance from residents due to the lack of convenience of the system, and the project is currently experimenting with upgraded mechanical flushing and collection systems for grey water and rain water.

Finally, the project also runs an off-grid solar home system business for residents of the settlement, and is aiming to develop this as a franchise model for export to other informal settlements, this being the first of these franchises. Solar home systems consisting of a 70Wp panel, two indoor LED lights, one TV, an outdoor spotlight and phone charging facilities are provided to residents on a fee-for-service basis, with customers paying an initial installation fee of R200, and monthly installments of R150 thereafter to use the system. Users can also choose to up-rate their panels to cover other appliances such as a radio or television. iShack takes responsibility for operation and maintenance of the system, and since 2011 over 700 systems have been installed out of 2,500 households in the settlement under the project.

enkanini blog image 2Enkanini, Stellenbosch, from the steps of the iShack demonstration shacks. Image: Daniel Kerr